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Memory Petals art work to blossom at Newburn Library

On Tuesday (December 6th) a new permanent artwork went on display at Newburn Library, which is the culmination of three-months work by a collection of local groups from Throckley and Newburn.


Memory Petals has seen twenty-four people from the Grange Welfare Centre, Throckley Community Hall and ‘Flowers of Newburn’ community group work closely with North-East artists Karen Underhill and Kate Eccles.

This community project has explored the themes of memory and discovery, mining the rich historical links of Newburn and Throckley to the River Tyne. The river connections investigated looked at salmon fishing, the old watermill and artefacts found in the river from “The Battle of Newburn” in 1640. The words and imagery inspired by these local stories were developed into crafting a circular motif, growing from imagery of a rose engraved military button, the watermill and other beautiful flowers.

Memory Petals has been supported by Newcastle City Council’s Arts Development Team and funded by Newburn Ward Committee.

A variety of different techniques were used in the workshops to help create the heritage imagery, ideas and stories.  The techniques included mark making, painting, digital photography, apps, text, collage and sound recordings. One of the highlights was for participants to produce a paper collage of the River Tyne that contained printed salmon with ripples and waves containing woven text.

Memory Petals also explored the senses of sight, touch, smell and sound; and covered singing, textiles, printing and digital media.

Each person contributed their own unique story and experiences to the project – some of whom live with dementia and others have little experience with the arts. The artists worked with everyone, to support and nurture them to explore identity and creativity.

In the early stages of the project, the artists were inspired by the name of “Flower of Newburn” heritage group, the Battle of Newburn, and the battle button containing a flower emblem which can be found on the banks of River Tyne.

The group from the Grange Welfare Centre enjoyed recalling their memories and getting their hands dirty when doing some messy exploration. The people from Throckley Community Hall [Throckley Women’s Group] drove their ideas forward and contributed to the digital aspects of the artwork. The Flowers of Newburn group provided some wonderful reflections of the past life and times in Newburn.

The final large flower artwork is 5ft x 5ft in size and contains 36 kaleidoscope discs. A booklet has also been produced to document the three-month creative journey.

Newburn Library is an ideal home for the permanent artwork as the building is situated at the heart of the local community; and reopened to the public back in September 2015 after enjoying a seven-month renovation programme.

Cllr Kim McGuinness, cabinet member for culture and communities at Newcastle City Council, said: “Memory Petals and projects like it, are a fantastic example of the arts and artistic participation having positive impact on the wellbeing of the community.  The permanent artwork presents a unique and important insight into the memories of older residents, as well as being a fun and pleasurable wander down memory lane for participants. It’s a great opportunity for other residents and library users to experience these stories and build on their knowledge of the area, its history and heritage.

“Libraries are central to communities; educating, informing and entertaining people of all ages, this makes Newburn library the perfect venue and host for this exhibition. We really hope Memory Petals attracts a whole new audience to Newburn Library, people who haven’t visited the building before and who want to see this fantastic artwork.”

Self-employed artist, Karen Underhill, aged 47, of Low Fell, Gateshead, has been a resident in the North-East for over twenty years; and is originally from Hawick in the Scottish Borders. Karen is married to husband, Simon and they have two children, Amelia and Adam.

Karen talks about the core values of Memory Petals and describes the project as being fun, intriguing, memorable and colourful. She said: “Our approach was to enable the participants to recall and reflect on past history. Art is a great communication tool that allows for people to engage and stimulate the mind.

“The aim of the project was to work with older people from local community groups, to try and record their personal memories, reflections and to celebrate the heritage of the area. At the same time, as having a fun and creating a pleasurable experience.”

Visual artist, Kate Eccles, aged 31, lives in Cullercoats and was born in Hexham. She is married and is expecting her first child.  Kate said: “Our intentions from the start of the project was always for the people who took part in Memory Petals to explore new skills; and to celebrate the artwork that will be a fitting legacy to the heritage of Throckley and Newburn that will be here in the library for years to come.”

Kate was asked what she hoped visitors to Newburn Library would think of the resulting artwork.  She said: “I hope they will take the time to look closely at the work. I think Memory Petals is quite unique and contemporary in its presentation. There are things that unfold and the work is about allowing a glimpse into people’s personal lives. The book we also produced will hopefully stimulate and interest people to further explore the history of the locality and events like the Battle of Newburn.

“We hope the artwork provides the opportunity for schools and local residents to come down and look at the library, and see what kind of creative work can be created here. It would be great for them to look in detail at the text, images and photographs that have been collect through the groups.”

Memory Petals will be in permanent situ in Newburn Library from Tuesday morning. For further information about Newburn Library please visit the ‘Leisure, Libraries and Tourism’ pages of www.newcastle.gov.uk

People can also browse through the “Memory Petals” booklet by clicking the following link http://bit.ly/2g9ujW6 (please note this is a non-for-profit publication).